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Crossing The Tiber

By PATRICK BUTLER, Religion Editor
Tyler Morning Telegraph, Tyler, TX
Posted on Saturday, August 11, 2007

Presidential candidate Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, has done it. Author and former Episcopal priest R.R. Reno has made the trip as well. And some Smith County residents, among them Lori Harris, have joined their brethren in crossing the Tiber, a phrase that Reno popularized as "making the trip from Protestantism to Catholicism."

It's been almost 500 years after Martin Luther traditionally sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door in Halle, Germany. Since that time Protestants and Catholics have made "great progress" in understanding each other, a Tyler Lutheran pastor said on Friday. His assessment comes despite a June statement from Pope Benedict XVI on "The Doctrine of the Church" that affirmed the Catholic Church as the "one true church" and all others either "defective" or "not true churches."

"Since the Vatican II council (of the 1960s), Protestants and Catholics have moved closer together," said the Rev. Dr. Mark Bratten, author and senior pastor of Tyler's Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. "By Benedict's statement, I think Catholics are trying to balance their understanding of what the 'true church' is, but they still want to reach out to other churches. That hasn't stopped. "



SORRY

Repairing the centuries-old rift between Lutherans and Catholics took a major step forward about eight years ago, Bratten said.

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Catholic Church signed a joint document saying basically that we were sorry for all the condemnations and accusations of the past and that we won't use that language anymore," he said. "After 500 years of Catholics and Lutherans supposedly not liking each other, that was significant progress."

After Benedict's approval of the doctrinal clarification document, the question of salvation became an immediate concern among some Protestants, said the Rev. Michael Hull of Tyler's Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church.

"The question immediately arises, 'can Protestants be Christians? Can Protestants be 'saved?' The answer is decidedly 'yes.' It is obvious that Christ is at work in many denominations."

The Most Rev. Alvaro Corrada del Rio, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler, agreed.

"Just by becoming a Catholic, you are not ensuring your salvation," he said. "Salvation is all around us. It's not just in the Catholic Church. The church subsists in the Catholic Church, but salvation does not. Salvation is of Christ."

The Holy Spirit works everywhere, Corrada said.

"We have great respect for peoples and other faith community's possession of the Holy Spirit. To pretend that we (Catholics) have a monopoly or that we monopolize salvation - we don't. We never say that. Salvation is worked by Christ, by the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that guides the human person and guides the church."



CROSSING THE TIBER

When Lori Harris, 49, tried to express what it meant to become a Catholic after being raised in the Church of God of Prophecy, she got tears in her eyes. The buoyant former missionary and home-school teacher was momentarily and uncharacteristically speechless.

"I can't explain it," she finally said in a high, squeaky voice as tears appeared. "I started taking communion as a kid. We even made the flat bread at home for use in our church."

But something was missing from her years as a Protestant Christian, she said. She turned to the Catholic Church and said she found "a deeper expression."

"I saw that through the Eucharist, the (Catholic) church was holding a form and holiness that Protestants simply do not," she said. "There was a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross."

Mrs. Harris was the daughter of a nonbeliever who was "called to preach" upon conversion in his mid-20s. She was 5 years old.

"Daddy preached in Argo at a small church of about 50, and momma played the Gibson guitar at worship time," she said. "We had the gifts of the spirit, of course, at the church. We prayed for healing for everyone who came to us. We had a jar of (anointing) oil by the door at home for anybody who walked in with a need. We had no medicines at home. We believed in God to heal us. We believed in miracles. I still do. We kids sat in the pews until we fell asleep during late-night revival meetings. Church was our life."

After studying Catholicism for "about three years," she came to Catholicism in 2007. The "Tiber" was popularized by Reno in his book, "In The Ruins of the Church," explained Mrs. Harris.

"The Tiber River is in Rome, but it really means to the crossing over from Protestantism to Catholicism," she said. "I crossed the Tiber on Good Friday of 2007."

Brownback also "crossed over" to became a Catholic in 2002 after participating in a mainline Protestant denomination, and then moving to evangelicalism. The phenomenon of Protestants moving through the Charismatic movement and coming to the Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church is growing as Christians search for their historical roots, said Hull.

"In my own faith journey, I was raised in a Protestant denomination and was baptized," said Hull. "Through the Charismatic Movement, I was refreshed and renewed. However, the fulfillment of my spiritual journey came when I discovered that the faith and practices of the early church are still being practiced and taught, uninterrupted throughout the centuries in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith."

The "Eastern Church," as the Orthodox church is called, became divided from the "Western" Church of Rome in the 11th century in an event known as "the Great Schism." Hull is under the authority of the Rev. Peter Gillquist, archpriest of the diocese of North America.

Gillquist once belonged to the Campus Crusade for Christ. He authored Johnny Cash's biography, "Man In Black" and visited Tyler on behalf of the Greek Orthodox mission in February.

"I didn't start out in the Orthodox Church," he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "I got there after a lot of study about the formation of the first and second-century church and why they did what they did. I first became a 'born-again' Christian in the 1960s after being raised Lutheran."

After his born-again experience, Gillquist was a regional director for the Campus Crusade for Christ in Minnesota until 1968. He attended Dallas Theological Seminary and Wheaton College Graduate School before joining Campus Crusade.

"Looking at Orthodox Church ceremony from the outside, I know it can seem formal and stiff, but it is anything but that," he said. "There is nowhere in the Bible that teaches the Holy Ghost is going to get laryngitis, and that is the view of the Orthodox Church. Our bishop is charismatic in the classic sense of the word and preaches with authority."



HARSH

The Greek Orthodox Church is not in "full communion" with Rome, said Hull. Benedict's doctrinal statement acknowledged the Eastern Church as a "true church" but "defective."

"I did find the word 'defective' somewhat intriguing, and perhaps to some Orthodox Christians offensive," Hull said. "I am an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, under the authority of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. The See of Antioch was St. Peter's first chair and my Apostolic succession is directly from St. Peter. With that in mind, the term 'defective' seems a little harsh."

Corrada said while the (Catholic) church represents only 5 percent of the population of East Texas, still there are those who are "crossing the Tiber" and joining.

"I recently accepted a former Episcopal priest to be a Catholic priest," he said. "This is a matter of the Holy Spirit. We do not, as Catholics, go out and seek people to leave their churches and come to us. We feel the Spirit will draw them and we welcome them. We don't say, 'you are Protestants and you have nothing to do with us.' No."

Mrs. Harris said many of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy orders and Matrimony - were already important to her before crossing the Tiber.

"Did I fully understand the Sacraments? No," she said. "But as a Protestant did I think what the Sacraments stand for as important to my faith? Absolutely. If anyone had come to me and asked if marriage were a holy institution of God, I would have said 'yes.'"

As a young adult, Mrs. Harris received "discipleship" training at a nondenominational missionary-sending society.

"I wanted to go to Asia, anywhere in Asia and preach the Gospel until I died," she said, laughing.

Her time in missions prepared her for crossing the Tiber, she said.

"In missions, people live sacrificially," she said. "They're ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if they must. You're taught servanthood, the "Father heart" of God and giving. They care for the poor and sick. They go into all the world and baptize people. Crossing the Tiber was just the next step for me."



FAMILY

Benedict's authorization of the document reaffirming the Catholic Church as "the one true church" was received wirh a firestorm of protest by Protestants and Catholics alike, said a Catholic theologian.

"There was concern, some of it bitter, from some Protestants and even some Catholics. It all depends on what you mean by "Catholic Church," said author and Catholic theologian Marcellino D'Ambrosio on a recent radio broadcast of "Catholic Answers Today." He asked listeners to "define your terms."

"People who are baptized (as Protestants) are led into a degree of unity with the (Catholic) church," he said. "To this day, we do not rebaptize Protestant Christians who decide they want to come into full communion with the church."

The descendants of the Protestant Reformation are not heretics, he said.

"Some are born outside of that communion (of the Catholic church) because of past sin on both sides. We don't say they are heretics and we don't call them schismatics. We see them as incorporated visibly into the Church of Christ - the Catholic Church."

After hundreds of years of division, that may surprise Protestants, he said,

"It may come as a shock to my Protestant brothers and sisters," he said, "but we kinda consider you part of the family. That's the way we see it. We don't consider it as 'us against you.' We consider us as family that had some misunderstandings in the past and we're not completely reconciled. But you're still part of us, that's the way we see it."

"That's wonderful," was Bratten's reaction to D'Ambrosio's comments. "That actually is and was the predominant stand from the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Protestants are separated brothers and sisters institutionally. D'Ambrosio's is really the Catholic position and allows a lot of dialogue. Catholics are not backing away from that."

Lutherans accept Catholic baptism as well, he said.

"We do respect each other's baptisms. If a Catholic were to come into our church, we would not rebaptize them. They are Christians, and I say that with an exclamation point."

Why are more Catholics not active in evangelism or inviting people to attend a mass if their church is the "one true church?"

"I could never think of inviting people to come and 'be Catholic,'" Corrada said. "We do invite people (Protestants) as they draw near to us, but it's not an invitation to worship because they are not saved. No, we respect that salvation. We know the Holy Sprit guides in those communities. The Catholic Church is an instrument; it's a sign of salvation. It's not salvation itself. It's the Holy Spirit where salvation lies. We stand very strongly on that."

But "evangelism" may be coming to the Catholic Church, said Mrs. Harris.

"With the influx of all the Protestants crossing the Tiber," she said, "you're going to see a lot more evangelism from the church. That's what Protestants do, and we haven't forgotten how to do that."

The Bishop thanked the churches that have dominated the spiritual landscape in East Texas for decades.

"I want to thank the Protestant church in East Texas for carrying the message of salvation for so many years," he said. "We are just a small, missionary diocese among them."

Patrick Butler covers religion. He can be reached at 903.596.6304. email:religion@tylerpaper.com


Updated Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007 at 2:32 p.m. CDT



Presidential candidate Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, has done it. Author and former Episcopal priest R.R. Reno has made the trip as well. And some Smith County residents, among them Lori Harris, have joined their brethren in crossing the Tiber, a phrase that Reno popularized as "making the trip from Protestantism to Catholicism."

It's been almost 500 years after Martin Luther traditionally sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door in Halle, Germany. Since that time Protestants and Catholics have made "great progress" in understanding each other, a Tyler Lutheran pastor said on Friday. His assessment comes despite a June statement from Pope Benedict XVI on "The Doctrine of the Church" that affirmed the Catholic Church as the "one true church" and all others either "defective" or "not true churches."

"Since the Vatican II council (of the 1960s), Protestants and Catholics have moved closer together," said the Rev. Dr. Mark Bratten, author and senior pastor of Tyler's Our Saviour's Lutheran Church. "By Benedict's statement, I think Catholics are trying to balance their understanding of what the 'true church' is, but they still want to reach out to other churches. That hasn't stopped. "



SORRY

Repairing the centuries-old rift between Lutherans and Catholics took a major step forward about eight years ago, Bratten said.

"The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Catholic Church signed a joint document saying basically that we were sorry for all the condemnations and accusations of the past and that we won't use that language anymore," he said. "After 500 years of Catholics and Lutherans supposedly not liking each other, that was significant progress."

After Benedict's approval of the doctrinal clarification document, the question of salvation became an immediate concern among some Protestants, said the Rev. Michael Hull of Tyler's Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church.

"The question immediately arises, 'can Protestants be Christians? Can Protestants be 'saved?' The answer is decidedly 'yes.' It is obvious that Christ is at work in many denominations."

The Most Rev. Alvaro Corrada del Rio, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tyler, agreed.

"Just by becoming a Catholic, you are not ensuring your salvation," he said. "Salvation is all around us. It's not just in the Catholic Church. The church subsists in the Catholic Church, but salvation does not. Salvation is of Christ."

The Holy Spirit works everywhere, Corrada said.

"We have great respect for peoples and other faith community's possession of the Holy Spirit. To pretend that we (Catholics) have a monopoly or that we monopolize salvation - we don't. We never say that. Salvation is worked by Christ, by the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that guides the human person and guides the church."



CROSSING THE TIBER

When Lori Harris, 49, tried to express what it meant to become a Catholic after being raised in the Church of God of Prophecy, she got tears in her eyes. The buoyant former missionary and home-school teacher was momentarily and uncharacteristically speechless.

"I can't explain it," she finally said in a high, squeaky voice as tears appeared. "I started taking communion as a kid. We even made the flat bread at home for use in our church."

But something was missing from her years as a Protestant Christian, she said. She turned to the Catholic Church and said she found "a deeper expression."

"I saw that through the Eucharist, the (Catholic) church was holding a form and holiness that Protestants simply do not," she said. "There was a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross."

Mrs. Harris was the daughter of a nonbeliever who was "called to preach" upon conversion in his mid-20s. She was 5 years old.

"Daddy preached in Argo at a small church of about 50, and momma played the Gibson guitar at worship time," she said. "We had the gifts of the spirit, of course, at the church. We prayed for healing for everyone who came to us. We had a jar of (anointing) oil by the door at home for anybody who walked in with a need. We had no medicines at home. We believed in God to heal us. We believed in miracles. I still do. We kids sat in the pews until we fell asleep during late-night revival meetings. Church was our life."

After studying Catholicism for "about three years," she came to Catholicism in 2007. The "Tiber" was popularized by Reno in his book, "In The Ruins of the Church," explained Mrs. Harris.

"The Tiber River is in Rome, but it really means to the crossing over from Protestantism to Catholicism," she said. "I crossed the Tiber on Good Friday of 2007."

Brownback also "crossed over" to became a Catholic in 2002 after participating in a mainline Protestant denomination, and then moving to evangelicalism. The phenomenon of Protestants moving through the Charismatic movement and coming to the Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church is growing as Christians search for their historical roots, said Hull.

"In my own faith journey, I was raised in a Protestant denomination and was baptized," said Hull. "Through the Charismatic Movement, I was refreshed and renewed. However, the fulfillment of my spiritual journey came when I discovered that the faith and practices of the early church are still being practiced and taught, uninterrupted throughout the centuries in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith."

The "Eastern Church," as the Orthodox church is called, became divided from the "Western" Church of Rome in the 11th century in an event known as "the Great Schism." Hull is under the authority of the Rev. Peter Gillquist, archpriest of the diocese of North America.

Gillquist once belonged to the Campus Crusade for Christ. He authored Johnny Cash's biography, "Man In Black" and visited Tyler on behalf of the Greek Orthodox mission in February.

"I didn't start out in the Orthodox Church," he told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "I got there after a lot of study about the formation of the first and second-century church and why they did what they did. I first became a 'born-again' Christian in the 1960s after being raised Lutheran."

After his born-again experience, Gillquist was a regional director for the Campus Crusade for Christ in Minnesota until 1968. He attended Dallas Theological Seminary and Wheaton College Graduate School before joining Campus Crusade.

"Looking at Orthodox Church ceremony from the outside, I know it can seem formal and stiff, but it is anything but that," he said. "There is nowhere in the Bible that teaches the Holy Ghost is going to get laryngitis, and that is the view of the Orthodox Church. Our bishop is charismatic in the classic sense of the word and preaches with authority."



HARSH

The Greek Orthodox Church is not in "full communion" with Rome, said Hull. Benedict's doctrinal statement acknowledged the Eastern Church as a "true church" but "defective."

"I did find the word 'defective' somewhat intriguing, and perhaps to some Orthodox Christians offensive," Hull said. "I am an Orthodox priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, under the authority of the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch. The See of Antioch was St. Peter's first chair and my Apostolic succession is directly from St. Peter. With that in mind, the term 'defective' seems a little harsh."

Corrada said while the (Catholic) church represents only 5 percent of the population of East Texas, still there are those who are "crossing the Tiber" and joining.

"I recently accepted a former Episcopal priest to be a Catholic priest," he said. "This is a matter of the Holy Spirit. We do not, as Catholics, go out and seek people to leave their churches and come to us. We feel the Spirit will draw them and we welcome them. We don't say, 'you are Protestants and you have nothing to do with us.' No."

Mrs. Harris said many of the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church - Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy orders and Matrimony - were already important to her before crossing the Tiber.

"Did I fully understand the Sacraments? No," she said. "But as a Protestant did I think what the Sacraments stand for as important to my faith? Absolutely. If anyone had come to me and asked if marriage were a holy institution of God, I would have said 'yes.'"

As a young adult, Mrs. Harris received "discipleship" training at a nondenominational missionary-sending society.

"I wanted to go to Asia, anywhere in Asia and preach the Gospel until I died," she said, laughing.

Her time in missions prepared her for crossing the Tiber, she said.

"In missions, people live sacrificially," she said. "They're ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if they must. You're taught servanthood, the "Father heart" of God and giving. They care for the poor and sick. They go into all the world and baptize people. Crossing the Tiber was just the next step for me."



FAMILY

Benedict's authorization of the document reaffirming the Catholic Church as "the one true church" was received wirh a firestorm of protest by Protestants and Catholics alike, said a Catholic theologian.

"There was concern, some of it bitter, from some Protestants and even some Catholics. It all depends on what you mean by "Catholic Church," said author and Catholic theologian Marcellino D'Ambrosio on a recent radio broadcast of "Catholic Answers Today." He asked listeners to "define your terms."

"People who are baptized (as Protestants) are led into a degree of unity with the (Catholic) church," he said. "To this day, we do not rebaptize Protestant Christians who decide they want to come into full communion with the church."

The descendants of the Protestant Reformation are not heretics, he said.

"Some are born outside of that communion (of the Catholic church) because of past sin on both sides. We don't say they are heretics and we don't call them schismatics. We see them as incorporated visibly into the Church of Christ - the Catholic Church."

After hundreds of years of division, that may surprise Protestants, he said,

"It may come as a shock to my Protestant brothers and sisters," he said, "but we kinda consider you part of the family. That's the way we see it. We don't consider it as 'us against you.' We consider us as family that had some misunderstandings in the past and we're not completely reconciled. But you're still part of us, that's the way we see it."

"That's wonderful," was Bratten's reaction to D'Ambrosio's comments. "That actually is and was the predominant stand from the Catholic Church since Vatican II. Protestants are separated brothers and sisters institutionally. D'Ambrosio's is really the Catholic position and allows a lot of dialogue. Catholics are not backing away from that."

Lutherans accept Catholic baptism as well, he said.

"We do respect each other's baptisms. If a Catholic were to come into our church, we would not rebaptize them. They are Christians, and I say that with an exclamation point."

Why are more Catholics not active in evangelism or inviting people to attend a mass if their church is the "one true church?"

"I could never think of inviting people to come and 'be Catholic,'" Corrada said. "We do invite people (Protestants) as they draw near to us, but it's not an invitation to worship because they are not saved. No, we respect that salvation. We know the Holy Sprit guides in those communities. The Catholic Church is an instrument; it's a sign of salvation. It's not salvation itself. It's the Holy Spirit where salvation lies. We stand very strongly on that."

But "evangelism" may be coming to the Catholic Church, said Mrs. Harris.

"With the influx of all the Protestants crossing the Tiber," she said, "you're going to see a lot more evangelism from the church. That's what Protestants do, and we haven't forgotten how to do that."

The Bishop thanked the churches that have dominated the spiritual landscape in East Texas for decades.

"I want to thank the Protestant church in East Texas for carrying the message of salvation for so many years," he said. "We are just a small, missionary diocese among them."

Patrick Butler covers religion. He can be reached at 903.596.6304. email:religion@tylerpaper.com


Updated Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007 at 2:32 p.m. CDT